Spammers get spammed

Ever wanted to respond to those spammers and annoy them back? Ask them the details of their incredible investment opportunities? Correct them on what body parts are too large and too small? Explain why you don’t need V*i*a*g*r*a?

Jonathan Land writes those responses, then posts them on his Web site, San Francisco-based No Starch Press recently released a collection of Land’s correspondence in book form. The Spam Letters lists for US$15.

Land, who is described in the book’s press material as an “accomplished stick figure artist,” started the Web site in November 2000. It now contains more than 200 examples of spam with Land’s responses, and averages about 2,000 to 2,500 hits daily.

The responses tend to the bizarre, and range from the long and boring to the absolutely hilarious. For example, an ad for a keychain that glows when you whistle (“Never lose your keys again”) drew suggestions for an even better variation — “I don’t see why you can’t create a tiny device triggered by a specific…word set…‘Socks!’: Every sock with its mate can be found in the potentially vast house. ‘Deck Of Cards!’: Never will a stray card have the ability to make your deck useless again — (of course) a dinner party at your house would quickly succumb to looking like a cheap rave or Gulf War-era footage of nighttime over Baghdad.”

Many of the best letters, often responding to spam offering to grow or shrink body parts, use humour of a sort that can’t be quoted in ComputerWorld Canada.

Land actually responds to the e-mail, although most spam comes with fake or spoofed return addresses.

“A large portion fall on dead addresses,” he says. “I pick and choose my attacks based on whether I think they’ll go to a real person.”

Among those real people are the alleged Nigerian diplomats seeking trapped funds that only you can help them retrieve. Hoping to build an illusion of a legitimate business relationship, these spammers use their real addresses and, according to Land, “will reply to almost anyone.” His site has long threads of back-and-forth business discussions with increasingly bewildered Nigerians (or faux Nigerians).

Spam these days frequently comes with real, but spoofed, return addresses; the real owners of those addresses are additional victims of the spammers. Land says he’s never received a response from one of those people. Perhaps they just delete his responses, thinking the additional correspondence is spam.

With all that wonderful stuff available on the Web site, an obvious question comes up about the book: Why buy something that’s already available for free?”

For many people, it’s just easier to sit back, relax, and enjoy ink on paper. And the book is better organized. “You can go digging around the site for ages…it’s a lot to deal with on the computer when I go off at length,” Land says. Besides, he adds, “the book is formatted a whole lot better than the site.”

With a selection of about 100 letters (half of what’s online), the book editors have done much of the work of choosing the best items for your perusal. And No Starch’s editing improved the quality of his writing, Land acknowledges.

The book will offer something that isn’t on the Web site: antispam advice.

It’s “just the basic” stuff, according to Land. But it does include one piece of advice that Land himself doesn’t practice: “Never, ever reply to a spam.”

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